Othello and Desdemona: An Analysis
An Examination of Othello and Desdemona's Relationship
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At the heart of Shakespeare's "Othello" is the doomed romance between Othello and Desdemona. They are in love, but Othello can't get past his self-doubt as to why such a lovely woman would love him. This leaves his mind susceptible to the tragic poisoning by the scheming Iago , even though Desdemona has done nothing wrong.
Too often played as a weak character, Desdemona is strong and bold, especially when it comes to Othello. She describes her commitment to him:
"But here’s my husband, And so much duty as my mother showed To you, preferring you before her father, So much I challenge that I may profess Due to the Moor my lord." (Act One, Scene Three)
This quote demonstrates Desdemona's strength and bravery. Her father appears to be a controlling man, and she stands up to him. It is revealed that he has previously warned Roderigo of his daughter, saying “My daughter is not for thee,” ( Act One , Scene One), but she takes control. She speaks for herself instead of letting her father speak for her, and she defends her relationship with Othello.
Othello may be impressive on the battlefield, but his own personal insecurity leads to the tragic end of the story. He admires and loves his wife, but he can't believe that she would be in love with him. Iago's lies about Cassio feed into Othello's self-doubt to the point that Othello doesn't believe the truth when he hears it; he believes the "evidence" that fits with his skewed, incorrect perception that is borne from his own insecurity. He cannot believe in reality, for it seems too good to be true.
Othello and Desdemona's Relationship
Desdemona may have the choice of many suitable matches, but she chooses Othello, even despite his racial difference. In marrying a Moor, Desdemona flies in the face of convention and faces criticism, which she handles unapologetically. She makes it clear that she loves Othello and is loyal to him:
"That I did love the Moor to live with him, My downright violence and storm of fortunes May trumpet to the world: my heart's subdued Even to the very quality of my lord: I saw Othello's visage in his mind, And to his honour and his valiant parts Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate. So that, dear lords, if I be left behind, A moth of peace, and he go to the war, The rites for which I love him are bereft me, And I a heavy interim shall support By his dear absence. Let me go with him." (Act One, Scene Three)
Othello explains that it was Desdemona who pursued him after she fell in love with his stories of valor: “These things to hear would Desdemona seriously incline," (Act One, Scene Three). This is another demonstration of her not being a submissive, passive character—she decided she wanted him, and she pursued him.
Desdemona, unlike her husband, is not insecure. Even when called a "whore," she remains loyal to him and resolves to love him despite his misunderstanding of her. As Othello mistreats her, Desdemona’s feelings are unwaning: “My love doth so approve him / That even his stubbornness, his checks, his frowns,” (Act Four, Scene Three). She is resolute in the face of adversity and remains committed to her husband.
Tenacity and Insecurity Lead to Tragedy
Desdemona combines rationality and tenacity in her final conversation with Othello. She does not shy away from her fear and bids for Othello to do the sensible thing and ask Cassio how he obtained her handkerchief. However, Othello is in too emotional a state to listen, and he has already ordered the lieutenant's murder.
This tenacity of Desdemona is partly what serves as her downfall; she continues to champion Cassio’s cause even when she knows this may create problems for her. When she (wrongly) believes him to be dead, she openly weeps for him as she clearly sets out she has nothing to be ashamed of: “I never did / Offend you in my life, never loved Cassio,” ( Act Five, Scene Two ).
Then, despite facing death, Desdemona asks Emilia to commend her to her "kind lord." She remains in love with him, even while knowing that he is responsible for her death.
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Othello and Desdemona’s Relationship, Essay Example
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Desdemona is a beautiful Venetian woman who appears to disappoint her father, a senior Venetian senator. She runs away with Othello, a man who is older than her by many years. We see her accompanying Othello to Cyprus When the government deploys him there in is service as a military officer. At Cyprus, We see Othello accepting the largo to manipulate him into believing that Desdemona is an adulterous woman. In the end, we see Othello murdering his spouse, Desdemona.
The relationship between Othello and Desdemona comes out as one with a number of challenges. Initially, the newlyweds think that love exists within their relationship, which we see by the, way Desdemona makes the vows that she is ready to love and stay with Othello for better or for worse. The two started this relationship on a precisely shaky ground, because we can clearly see that they did not give each other adequate time to understand and learn each other sufficiently. Because of this, and many other factors, Othello and Desdemona encounter a number of challenges, which in the end leads to the failure of the marriage. It is true that the fact that these newly went to Cyprus immediately after their wedding, it largely contributed to the problems in their marriage (Snyder, Shakespeare: a wayward journey).
First, we clearly see that Desdemona did not consider the opinion of her father on whether to marry Othello or not. By doing this, Desdemona brings out her behavior of self-centeredness, as she attempts to do what she thinks is right for her, not considering the wishes of other people, especially his father. It is quite clear that individuals cannot be always right in the decisions we make. Therefore, disregarding the opinions of other people closer to us may turn to be fatal in one way or another. In fact, the father goes ahead to make allegations that Othello has charmed his daughter. We can see this in the words the father uses.
“She is abused, stolen from me, and corrupted
By the spells, and medicines, bought of mountebanks;
For nature, so preposterously to err,
(Being not deficient, blind, or lame of sense)
Sans witch-craft could not” (p75)
We see Desdemona in court publicly claiming that she loves Othello exceedingly much and that she willingly accepts him as her husband. She goes ahead to ascertain that she is prepared for any problems that may come because of her decision. We see her making a request accompany Othello to Cyprus, because she understands what she is doing (Lee). She also claims that she fully knows who Othello is, and that is why she accepts him the way he is.
Another cause for the failure of the relationship between Desdemona and Othello is the difference in their color. We know that Desdemona and Othello had different skin colors. Initially, Desdemona claimed that she fully believed that their skin color difference could not affect their relationship. According to her, she found compensation for Othello’s color difference in his intelligence, his honorary stature and in his courage. Desdemona says,
“My heart’s subdu’d
Even to the very quality of my lord;
I saw Othello’s visage in his mind,
And to his honors and his valiant parts
Did I my soul and fortunes consecrate” (p 278)
As much as Desdemona’s father would have wished otherwise, the determination towards the marriage, and her willingness to abide by her decision made Desdemona’s father let the marriage happen (Snyder, Shakespeare: a wayward journey).
Despite this, he leaves them with the following remark;
“Look to her (Moor) if thou hast eyes to see:
She has deceiv’d her father, and may thee.” (p 323)
The father ironically refers to her daughter as a moor because she is getting married to Othello, who is a moor.
Othello had been a faithful officer in the military for long. However, this marriage with Desdemona, the daughter of Brabantio, changes the way most prominent people in the society view him. We see Othello rising to an important position over largo from his making love with Desdemona. This makes him the greatest enemy of his faithful officer. He has also taken Desdemona from her father, secretly marrying her. This also makes him an enemy with Brabantio, who had been one of Othello’s greatest admirers in the senate. He is in a collision as he attempts to balance his new life as a senior state official, and his love life in a civilized state (Paster).
It is therefore, clear that the fact that Othello is a moor affects his life and his marriage as well. The society views moors as half-civilized people. Therefore, it is hard for Othello to adapt to life in the civilized and cultured Venice (Vaughan).
It is evident that the increase in the number of enemies of Othello, because of his marriage to Desdemona, largely affected his social life as a husband. We see that even when he goes to court, he frankly and freely admits his actions in an unusually unapologetic manner. He says willing to go abide by the decision of Desdemona, and requests that she speak for herself, claiming that she has a right to choose her husband.
All these cases are a clear sign that this marriage between Othello and Desdemona lacked adequate time to prepare themselves for marital challenges, which led to its failure.
Lee, Michelle. Shakespearean criticism . Michigan: Gale Research Co, 2004.
Paster, Gail Kern. Humoring the body: emotions and the Shakespearean stage . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004.
Snyder, Susan. Othello: critical essays. New York: Garland, 1988.
—. Shakespeare: A Wayward Journey . New York: University of Delaware Press, 2002.
Vaughan, Margaret Lael Mikesell and Virginia Mason. Othello, an annotated bibliography . New York: Garland, 1990. http://www.shakespeare-online.com/plays/othello/othelloessay4.html
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Othello and Desdemona in “Othello” by Shakespeare Essay
Othello and desdemona: relationship built on jealousy.
The plot of Shakespeare’s 1603 tragedy revolves around two main characters: Othello, a Moorish general drafted to the Venetian army, and Iago, who disguises himself as Othello’s friend but is treacherous. As a black man in 16th century Venice, Othello finds himself in an unlikely romance and later, a secret marriage with Desdemona, the daughter of a wealthy senator. By tying a knot with someone so racially different, the woman defies social expectations and goes against her family. This essay will discuss why the relationship between Othello and Desdemona was doomed from the start and how their tragic fate relates to the topic of jealousy.
First, as in his other tragedies, Shakespeare puts his characters in a hostile milieu or at least, in an environment that does not foster their aspirations. Othello is already somewhat disadvantaged: despite his high social status, he doubts Desdemona’s motives and whether the entire venture was nothing more than a youthful rebellion. His insecurities allow Iago to manipulate him and play with his feelings. The deceptive ensign warns Othello about the dangers of being jealous by saying “ O, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster ” (3.3.165-166). At the same time, he makes a conscious effort to destroy his lord’s marriage by leaving Desdemona’s handkerchief in her former lover’s bedroom, for “ trifles light as air / are to the jealous confirmations strong / as proofs of holy writ ” (3.3.323-325). Thus, Othello and Desdemona confront external forces seeking to harm their love.
Yet, the two lovers could arguably handle fate’s shenanigans had they, not such personal qualities that doomed their romance before it even began. “Othello” is a prime example of Shakespeare employing his preferred writing method. The author gives each character a fatal flaw that develops gradually throughout the play and has a detrimental impact on the outcome. Jealousy is Othello’s fatal flaw, which only gets fueled by his wife’s past, her unapologetic acceptance of her actions, and Iago’s deception. Emilia notices this about Desdemona’s husband and asks her to be wary since “ jealous souls will not be answered so. / They are not ever jealous for the cause, / But jealous for they’re jealous ” (3.4.159-162). Interestingly enough, Othello seems to be aware of his weaknesses. In one of his soliloquies, he ponders the nature of marriage with sadness and anger: “ O curse of marriage, / That we can call these delicate creatures ours, / And not their appetites! ” (3.3.268-270). Later, he even confesses to Iago that while his jealous thoughts are tormenting him, he will not give in to the adversity because he loves his wife: “ Why, why is this? Think’st thou I’d make a life of jealousy, to follow still the changes of the moon with fresh suspicions ?” (3.3.177-179). For a moment, Othello is positive about Desdemona’s feelings, “ for she had eyes and chose me ” (3.3.188-190). This, however, does not prevent him from smothering his wife when jealousy blinds him, and in his final hours, he hates to be remembered as someone who was “ easily jealous ” (5.2.395).
In his works, Shakespeare quite often discussed the topic of jealousy and the rich palette of emotions tied to this phenomenon. In the context of “Othello,” it was compelling to examine jealousy from two perspectives. First, Othello’s jealousy is fueled by his environment and societal pressure: he is not sure that such a noble and beautiful woman chose him for who he is, and Iago’s games are not helping. Second, Othello’s controlling tendencies and Desdemona’s tenacity clash and lead to a conflict. Othello fights an unequal battle against his jealousy but inevitably succumbs to it, which results in both characters’ death.
Shakespeare, William, and Edward Pechter. Othello (Norton Critical Editions) . Second, W. W. Norton & Company, 2016.
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IvyPanda. (2022, January 15). Othello and Desdemona in "Othello" by Shakespeare. https://ivypanda.com/essays/othello-and-desdemona-in-othello-by-shakespeare/
"Othello and Desdemona in "Othello" by Shakespeare." IvyPanda , 15 Jan. 2022, ivypanda.com/essays/othello-and-desdemona-in-othello-by-shakespeare/.
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IvyPanda . "Othello and Desdemona in "Othello" by Shakespeare." January 15, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/othello-and-desdemona-in-othello-by-shakespeare/.
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Desdemona and emilia: the testament of female friendship in othello.
Desdemona (Janie Brookshire) and Emilia (Karen Peakes) in Othello at Folger Theatre, 2011. Photo by Carol Pratt.
In Othello, male friendship is an agent of destruction. Early modern discourses of friendship elevated the bond between two men above all else, but in Shakespeare’s tragedy, master manipulator Iago marshals the privilege of so-called ‘counselor’ and ‘friend’ to turn Othello against Desdemona, and to destroy them both. In contrast, the play’s central female friendship between Desdemona and Emilia inspires resistance and the courage to speak the truth, resulting in Iago’s exposure and Desdemona’s exoneration. Friendship offers protection, solace, and—finally—redemption as Desdemona and Emilia struggle to navigate and survive in a violent, male-dominated world.
Navigating Expectations as Wives
Emilia and Desdemona are fundamentally ‘unlike:’ maidservant and gentlewoman, older and younger, sexually experienced and naïve. But the qualities they share are more important than what sets them apart: both are wives and women, isolated and alone in a foreign land at war. Desdemona and Emilia turn to each other for companionship and comfort, and discover an equal in intelligence, virtue, loyalty, and generosity. As the play progresses, the bond between Desdemona and Emilia is strengthened by shared experiences of abuse and increasing fear of male violence.
The two women are expected to obey and submit to their husbands in exchange for financial security and protection, but as Othello’s jealousy builds it falls to Emilia to educate Desdemona on the realities of married life:
EMILIA: ‘Tis not a year or two shows us a man. They are all but stomachs, and we all but food; They eat us hungerly, and when they are full They belch us. (III.iv.120-123)
Emilia is well-versed in the complexities and challenges of marriage, and she counsels her young, privileged, and inexperienced friend to reset her expectations, rid herself of idealistic fantasies, and to know her own worth. Othello’s jealous turn is inevitable, a symptom of manhood itself; it need not destroy Desdemona. Men are greedy and predictable, but women are clever, funny, and resilient; they are survivors. Emilia herself offers a symbol of hope: years trapped in an abusive marriage have not robbed her of wit or strength. Emilia represents what Desdemona might become: a wife whose individual character and identity remain intact.
The Willow Song and Emilia’s Feminist Response
As the world Desdemona thought she understood and the man she thought she loved unravels, and the play descends into violent madness, Emilia’s friendship represents a lifeline for Desdemona.
Desdemona … the poor soul sat singing, sing willow, willow, willow, Othello, act IV, scene 3 [graphic] / H. Singleton pinx. ; C. Taylor direxit et sculpt. [London : C. Taylor, 1792] Folger ART File S528o1 no.45 copy 1
The Willow Song scene provides a much-needed respite from chaos and violence as the wrenching, pure pain of Desdemona’s song underscores her innocence and fidelity. Affection for and duty to her friend inspires Emilia to speak freely and courageously, regardless of propriety or the threat of retaliation. She calls upon her role as friend to shake Desdemona from all-encompassing despair and to mount an attack on pervasive, insidious male hypocrisy: ‘I do think it is their husbands’ faults / If wives do fall’ (IV.iii.84-85). She goes on:
EMILIA: Let husbands know Their wives have sense like them. They see, and smell, And have their palates both for sweet and sour, As husbands have. What is it that they do When they change us for others? Is it sport? I think it is. And doth affection breed it? I think it doth. Is’t frailty that thus errs? It is so too. And have not we affections, Desires for sport, and frailty, as men have? Then let them use us well. Else let them know, The ills we do, their ills instruct us so. (IV.iii.97-115)
Emilia’s speech represents a powerful feminist perspective, elucidated at a time when women were subordinated and oppressed as a matter of course—legally, socially, and politically. To Emilia, women and men (husbands and wives) are equal on the basis of humanity: both have ‘senses’ that need feeding, bodies that need care and healing, ‘desires,’ ‘affections,’ and ‘frailties.’ Emilia’s speech is designed to cure Desdemona of her imagined guilt for failing to meet the unfair, unrealistic expectations of female behavior in marriage. Emilia encourages Desdemona to regard herself as Emilia does: as an individual worthy of love, life, and respect.
Desdemona’s Death and Emilia’s Defense
Desdemona draws strength from Emilia as a friend, protector, healer, and would-be savior—but Emilia cannot save her. Ultimately, Desdemona dies at Othello’s hands, begging for a few more minutes, for one more prayer, for the right to die with an unburdened soul; she fights to be seen as the faithful, innocent woman (and friend) she is, rather than as a ‘strumpet’ (V.ii.97). Othello does not merely murder Desdemona, he silences her: he robs Desdemona of breath, and the ability to speak the words that would exonerate and liberate her. Her voice passes instead to Emilia, and she endows Emilia with the exalted power to speak truth, as only true friends can.
William Salter. Othello’s Lamentation. Oil on canvas, ca. 1857. Folger FPa50
Desdemona’s murder moves Emilia to take the stage and attack the men that wrought these horrors, privileging the loyalty and true speech of friendship over her personal safety:
EMILIA: Thou hast not half that power to do me harm As I have to be hurt. O gull! O dolt, As ignorant as dirt! Thou hast done a deed— I care not for thy sword, I’ll make thee known, Though I lost twenty lives. (V.ii.197-202)
Othello’s violent ‘power’ pales in comparison to the bond of love between Emilia and Desdemona, and the pain of loss transcends Emilia’s care for physical safety. Her faith and love for Desdemona command her to expose Othello and to redeem Desdemona as an ‘angel,’ ‘heavenly true,’ ‘the sweetest innocent / That e’er did lift up eye’ (V.ii.161; V.ii.66; V.ii.236-237). Emilia’s true speech uncovers the ‘Villainy, villainy, villainy!’ at the core of Othello and Iago’s friendship, and condemns Othello’s evil deeds (V.ii.226). Emilia’s body, like Desdemona’s, is destroyed by vindictive male violence, but her spirit is purified by Desdemona’s redemption: ‘Moor, she was chaste. She loved thee, cruel Moor. / So come my soul to bliss as I speak true’ (V.ii.299-300).
Othello, Emilia: She loved thee, cruel Moor [graphic] / Louis Rhead. Folger ART Box R469 no.95 (size L)
Emilia and Desdemona’s bodies haunt those that remain onstage: a testament to friendship between women and witness to the dangerous threat of false, faithless friendship among men. Death and destruction are tragedy’s inevitable end, but female friendship in Othello retains its power even in death. Their bodies lying side by side, Desdemona and Emilia recall fourteenth- and fifteenth-century English monuments and tombs carved with images of male friends who chose to spend eternity buried together, cementing a bond more sacred than blood or marriage. In Othello, female friends inherit the legacy of friendship’s power in early modern culture: Desdemona and Emilia are protectors from slander, defenders of honor, and the only speakers of truth.
is a writer and editor based in Washington, DC. She has worked as a public affairs and communications professional with global nonprofits, think tanks, and election campaigns. Elise recently completed her MSc in Literature & Society at the University of Edinburgh; her dissertation explored the triumph of female friendship in Much Ado About Nothing , Othello , and The Winter's Tale . — View all posts by Elise Walter
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Theme Of Love In Othello Essay
Back to: Othello by William Shakespeare
Table of Contents
The play Othello portrays various stages of love and how it is bound to the nature of the individuals who experience it. In the play, one gets to see the love of Desdemona and Othello and also the kind of love between Emilia and Iago.
Considering the love in friendship, one can analyse the friendship between Emilia and Desdemona. Iago also acts as a friend and his abuse of such a bond of love with Roderigo, Cassio and Othello show us his understanding of it and the capacity of a human being to misuse that.
Ideal Love of Othello and Desdemona
The love between Desdemona and Othello begins as ideally as it can. Even though she is from a high lineage, she elopes with Othello, known to be a moor in that society. It shows the triumph of faith in the course of love.
In front of the Duke and others, she openly proclaims her love for Othello. Othello, known for his bravery and integrity, retells their bond in front of everyone. It is the most ideal strength of love where both are afraid of nothing and equally ready to face the world.
But with the advent of Iago’s plan, one sees Othello’s vulnerability who is yet to match the devotion and trust which Desdemona has for him. Othello loves truly but his own insecurities allow Iago to plant the possibility of Desdemona’s infidelity.
Shakespeare shows how the immensity of one’s deep connection can be turned upside down to an equal amount. Earlier, their love is not afflicted by the excess of lust which may imbalance it.
But Iago traces the weakness in Othello and utters with precision and cunningly makes him conscious of the false convention of women going for someone like refined Cassio instead of a rough Othello.
Jealousy is shown here as a strong by-product of a strong love. Othello’s devotion to Desdemona is supreme too but it is vulnerable and imprudent.
He says, “ I do love thee! And when I love thee not, chaos is come again. ” It ends up in angelic Desdemona’s death by Othello.
In contrast to this, the play also shows the like of love of Roderigo. He infatuates from his own side only. As a true observation of life, the play shows how most of the time such one side excesses bring tragedy upon one’s own and other’s life.
Emilia’s Blind Love
Emilia loves Iago so much that as his wife, even a deeply understanding woman like her, never questions her husband’s intentions behind questionable demands.
Without even asking why he needs it, she gives away the handkerchief of Desdemona given to her by Othello as their first token of love and it becomes the solid weapon in the hands of Iago.
Cassio shows a pure aspect of love and friendship by remaining loyal to Othello to the end. Iago, at the centre of all these, knows how to exploit this loving tendency in human beings. Love and its varying aspects of beauty and misfortune remain among the prime thematic concerns of this play.
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Othello's Love for Desdemona: Tragic Passion in Shakespeare's Play
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